Ineffective management of guidance in schools has emerged as a key theme in a wide-ranging review by the Inspectorate.
After 250 inspections of guidance conducted since 1985 and evaluations of other developments, HMI concludes: "The allocation of time for guidance duties varies significantly between, and sometimes within, schools. Education authorities vary in the extent to which they advise schools about time allocations to guidance, and few authorities monitor closely the arrangements made by schools.
"The great majority of guidance staff willingly tackle a wide range of duties. In many cases, they find it very difficult to undertake these duties within the time allocated. It is, therefore, important that guidance tasks are prioritised within a coherent attempt to manage time effectively."
This theme was taken up by Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, who commented that, while there was a great deal about the guidance system of which to be proud, the advent of the post-16 Higher Still reforms required improvements to be made.
Mr Robertson added: "I place particular emphasis on the role of senior staff in managing the guidance system."
Delia Thornton, president of the Scottish Guidance Association, agreed that there was "considerable variation in the provision of guidance, which appears to depend on the whims of school management rather than any coherent national approach".
More worryingly, HMIs also found that many schools were not implementing policies laid down by their own education authorities. In one area, which stipulated the recommended 400 minutes of minimum guidance time, the inspectors report that "the actual time allocations varied from school to school and from promoted post to promoted post".
The Inspectorate has also told schools to look at the way they deploy Scotland's 1,100 principal guidance teachers and 1,000 assistant principal teachers of guidance.
The report, part of the series on effective learning and teaching, suggests that guidance staff could take the initiative themselves and make more space for key activities. They should "stand back from involvement in areas which are the responsibility of one or other of the caring agencies".
Administrative and supervisory duties should be offloaded to non-teaching staff.
The review also covered the way guidance is organised and says the arguments for a "vertical" or house system have become more "compelling,". The "horizontal" method, in which teachers move up the school with pupils is said to be less manageable and to put strains on particular staff at particular times.
Other recommendations are for more emphasis to be given to subject choice in the upper school, improvements to the low standing of personal and social education, and more information for careers officers before they interview pupils in the fourth year of secondary school and beyond.